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Concert Review:

The Assad Brothers
and
Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg

 

by Grant Ruiz

 

On the evening of August 1, 2003, Sergio and Odair Assad performed a triple concerto for guitars and violin with Nadja Solern-Sonnenberg. The concerto was written by Sergio Assad. This was part of a program including Enescu's Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and Bizet's Suite No. 2 and Symphony No. 1 performed by the Britt Orchestra under the direction of Peter Bay.

The concerto, entitled Originis, was in 5 parts: Tarantella, Siciliana y Canzona, Baiao Chorado, Cantiga e Modhinha, and Finale. Mr. Assad's program notes are included at the end of this review.

Quite simply, the concerto was stunning. Most memorable to me were the tarantella, which included a haunting melody that made an immediate impression, and the third movement, which had the swinging, lively tempo of a choro with lush harmonies. Not surprisingly, the brothers particularly shone during the third and fourth movements, which were based on Brazilian motives.

This was my first time seeing the Assad's in concert, and it was evident that they have played together for a very long time. Their sound was well integrated, and their respective use of the fretboard (Odair often in the upper registers and Sergio in the lower) gave the impression of a giant, superbly played guitar. Some of the most brilliant moments included overlapping arpeggios that produced a shimmering, richly harmonic effect.

Previous compositions I've heard by Sergio Assad for his brother and him have at times been challanging and somewhat dissonant, for example, on the album "Alma Brasiliera". I wasn't sure what to expect; however, the style of the concerto was very accessible, fairly modern in places (e.g., the finale used a repeating compound rhythmic phrase interspersed between repeats of the previous themes), but still very evocative of Italian and Brazilian folk music. I was also very impressed by Mr. Assad's use of a small orchestra, which was well balanced within itself and with the solo instruments. (Mr. Bay's direction was well up to the task.) Also, the cadenzas in the piece were very well proportioned -- not too showy but intense and to the point at times.

The audiences reaction to the piece was very enthusiastic. I found it telling that many audience members could not contain themselves and broke out into applause after the third movement. Also, a light rain began during the concerto, but nobody seemed to mind, and I think this was largely due to the mesmerizing effect of the music (and the fact that it had been bloody hot and dry in the valley for the past few weeks.) At the very end, the crowd was on its feet. The trio came out for a bow, singled out the composer, and then graciously acknowledged the orchestra. They came out a second time and played a lovely trio by a Brazilian composer.

Ms. Solerno-Sonnenberg's playing was brilliant. She could evoke the kind of passion that the piece called for. She also had a relaxed manner on the stage that reflected the ease with which she plays the violin. This trio has collaborated and recorded before, although this concerto has not yet been recorded. I will certainly keep my eye out for this one, and I recommend that others do as well.

And now, the notes from the program:

Born into a musical family, Sergio Assad began composing for guitar shortly after he learned how to play the instrument. He later studied conducting and composition in Rio de Janiero. The composer has provided the following program note for Concerto Originis:

"My brother Odair and I have had the privilege to collaborate with many wonderful artists, but no other partnership has been more fruitful and rewarding that our assiciation with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The idea of a triple concerto for violin, two guitars and small orchestra was a natural outgrowth of our musical explorations and will be an important part of our growing, virtually limitless body of repertoire.

"Concerto Originis is composed of five movements. The themes for the first and second movements are inspired by and reflect Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg's Italian roots. The first movement is based on a tarantella written in A-B-A form and employs two main themes. The development of both thems is accomplished through a cadenza for solo violin and displays Nadja's distinctive use of color, dynamics and phrasing, and fully exploits her extraordinary virtuosic gifts. The second movement is a combination of an Italian dance, the siciliana, and a plain song, a canzona, both inspired by Neopolitan songs.

"The third and fourth movements stem from my Brazilian roots and are animated by traditional Brazilian dances and songs. The third movement combines a dance from the northern region of the country, the baiao, with a traditional musical style from Rio de Janiero called choro. This movement includes a cadenza that displays the unique and virtuosic talents of the two guitar soloists. The fourth movement is a combination of a mysterious cantiga and the modinha. The modinha is an old form of salon music from the 19th Century Brazilian imperial court.

"The fifth and final movement is an amalgamation of musical material from the previous four movements into a rondo form. Here the themes are reworked by employing a more contemporary approach, and thropugh the use of multiple meters and denser orchestration. Propulsive and rhythmic, this final movement weaves together the Italian and Brazilian elements heard previously through constant manipulation and transformation and a continuous exchange between the soloists and the orchestra."


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